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August 8, 2013

FBI: Doctor told healthy patients they had cancer in 'shocking' fraud scheme

Daily Briefing

The owner of a Michigan oncology center has been charged with health care fraud for administering chemotherapy to patients who never had cancer as part of a Medicare fraud scheme that was worth as much as $35 million—and may have contributed to a patient's death.

Farid Fata, who founded the Rochester Hill-based Michigan Hematology Centers in 2005, is accused of submitting fraudulent claims for chemotherapy treatments, PET scans, and several cancer and hematology treatments on behalf of cancer patients who did not require them.

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Over a two-year period, Fata oversaw about $35 million in Medicare billings, and prosecutors allege that he falsified documents and ordered others to do the same. Fata was personally responsible for about $25 million of the Medicare claims submitted by the centers. According to FBI agent Brian Fairweather, that's "more than any hematologist/oncologist in the state of Michigan during that time period."

To justify the false claims, the FBI alleges that Fata misdiagnosed patients with cancer to justify cancer treatment, administered chemo to patients who had gone into remission, and ordered chemo for end-of-life patients who would not benefit from the drugs, local TV station WXYZ reports.

Authorities also say that Fata required patients who had other serious medical conditions that required medical treatment to receive their chemotherapy before going to the hospital. In one case, a patient fell and hit his head, but Fata allegedly pushed him to receive his chemotherapy treatment before leaving for the hospital. The patient subsequently died from the head injury.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade issued a statement stressing that the office's top priority in the criminal case is patient care. According to McQuade, "The agents and attorneys acted with great attention to detail to stop these allegedly dangerous practices as quickly as possible."

She added that officials have set up a hotline for potential victims "so that patients can access their files and get questions answered."

"I'm totally shocked. I trusted this man implicitly ... I trusted the lab reports."
- one of Fata's patients.

Responding to the charges, defense attorney Christopher Andreoff noted that the allegations are based on staff interviews, not patient complaints. "It’s premature to say he’s harmed anybody," he said.

In interviews with various media outlets, some of Fata's patients expressed shock over the charges and worry about their own cases.

"I always liked Dr. Fata. He had kind eyes," said Patricia Sullivan, who was diagnosed with acute anemia eight years ago. "Now, I'm worrying if I'm really that anemic. ... I'm totally shocked, because I trusted this man implicitly. I trusted the lab reports" (Halcom, Crain's Detroit Business/Modern Healthcare, 8/6 [subscription required]; Catallo, WXYZ, 8/7; White, AP/Post Huron Times Herald, 8/6; Meyer, Detroit Free Press, 8/8).

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